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Hiring a Drone Pilot – The Complete Guide

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With drones becoming a ubiquitous technology in the video and marketing space it’s worth checking that you’re up to speed on the practical and legal requirements. The drone industry is heavily regulated by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and all drone pilots are required to hold certain licenses and insurance to fly professionally.

Checking your pilot has these documents can save you severe headaches if something goes wrong during the production process.

In this article I’ll outline, in laymen’s terms, what the current legal requirements are so that you can ask the right questions when you hire a freelancer or video company.

In addition to that I’ll offer a few tips on getting the best creative experience from an aerial photo or video shoot. Drones may be easy to buy but that doesn’t mean everyone can get good results from them. Creative aerial filming is an art like all media creation and it takes a good eye as well as experience and knowledge.

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CAA Requirements for Drones

 

In 2020 the CAA revised all of it’s procedures and licenses for Drone operators. The new regulations categorise drone flying by area and also to a degree drone weight.

For this article the weight of a drone isn’t really relevant as it’s something the drone pilot should be thinking about.

Where you are asking the pilot to film will be relevant to the license they hold so lets focus in on that.

Operator ID

Every drone Operator should have an Operator ID. This might be an individual ID or a company ID depending on the pilot.

The CAA classify an Operator as “legally accountable for the safe management of the aircraft and must decide the necessary level of preparation, training, planning and oversight for the conditions and circumstances of flights. This includes flights they carry out themselves or that are carried out by anyone else using the operator’s aircraft.”

The ‘Flyer’ is the pilot and they will operate under the management of the Operator. The flyer will have their own Flyer ID.

Essentially this means that the Operator is in charge of making sure everything is safe and checked prior to the flight, these checks can be done remotely prior to the flight. The flyer then carries out the flight based on these checks.

Often with freelancers and small companies the Operator and the Flyer will be the same person.

You can check on a pilots ID by entering at the follow site

https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/check-a-registration

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Licenses

In addition the the ID the pilot needs a flying license, there are currently three main categories that a pilot can fly an unmanned aircraft in.

Open Category – Certificate required: A2 Certificate of Competence

This is for general flying and does not require specific permission from the CAA, it covers most rural and some urban areas and provides a good number of options for most drone filming.

VLOS or ‘visual line of site’ between pilot and drone must be maintained at all times with drone flying so you should assess the space you want to film in and make alternative plans if you think this won’t be possible.

Pilots are also generally not allowed to fly over crowded spaces so events and public places may be unworkable.

Specific Category – Certificate required: GVC

Flying in certain areas and under certain conditions requires the pilot to fly in the Specific Category. Flights in this category require a risk assessment and permission from the CAA and as such may incur greater costs because of the admin and complexity involved in doing that.

There is no definitive list of locations or conditions for flights in this category but usually they would apply to more built up areas or complex flight paths.

Not all pilots will be set up to fly in this category.

Certified Category

This category is probably not relevant to most creative drone use, it covers the transport of goods and flying over assemblies of people. Permissions are required as in the Specific category.

Insurance

All drone Operators are required to hold insurance if they work commercially. The only component that you need to check as a client is the Public Liability amount. This can range from £1m up to £10m or more depending on the policy. Your business or organisation may have a required amount for this, if not then use your best judgement when checking with the Operator. Filming out in a field is obviously less risky than flying around a stately home.

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Creative Drone Photography and Filming

Most modern drones shoot in 4k video these days. If you are collecting the media directly from the pilot then make sure your computer system is suitable to play back 4k media. If the Operator is editing the content for you this is less of an issue as they can provide you with a compressed video for viewing.

Filming with drones can look amazing but it can also look very amateurish if it’s not done right. When I film aerial material I tend to use slow shots that track inwards and outward or from side to side.

I don’t use a ‘panning’ motion where the drone rotates from a stationary position, nor do I tilt the camera up and down too much. The reason for that is because tracking movement emulates the type of filming that you see in movies, where as panning and tilting is what you do when you have a camera on a tripod, cameras on tripods tend to be used by amateur film makers, or in 1970s TV shows. You can see why I avoid that!

Pacing is also important, modern drones can fly up to 60mph, but that doesn’t mean they should. Slower shots won’t distract the audience and draw attention to the process.

And finally aerial shots require some post production grading to make the colours pop. If you’re using your content for marketing then this is another important step that really helps the media look a lot more cinematic.

Here’s an example of some of the type of aerial content we create that illustrates those ideas.

The drone industry is an every changing sector, both in terms of technology and regulation.

Make sure you check up to date information before you embark on any project that involve aerial filming or photography.

Get in touch: [email protected] tel. 01364 550590

 

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